What makes a mighty fine drink could also make a pretty good fuel. Researchers at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls have figured out how to get about 4,000 gallons per hectare a year of ethanol from the agave plant, well adapted to grow on marginal land under low rainfall conditions.
The paper, titled “Prospecting for Energy-Rich Renewable Raw Materials: Agave Leaf Case Study” published in the journal PLOS ONE, outlined agave leaf composition and fermentation efficiencies that could produce competitive biofuels from this fast-growing, highly water use efficient plant.
“Bioethanol yields from agave fermentation could rival the most successful biofuel feedstock crops around the world,” says Associate Professor Rachel Burton.
“Importantly, it doesn’t compete with food crops, it’s fast growing so the whole plant could be used rather than just harvesting the leaves, and it is up to 10 times more water efficient than some other crop plants.”
Associate Professor Burton and her team, including PhD student Kendall Corbin, are working with AusAgave who have trial sites of agave established in Ayr in northern Queensland and Whyalla, South Australia.
The researchers are now looking at the best cultivation methods for ethanol production.